Monday, October 2, 2023

Gertrude M. Barrows Bennett (1883-1948)-Part One

Gertrude Mabel Barrows Bennett
Aka Francis Stevens

Born September 18, 1883, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Died February 2, 1948, San Francisco, California

I first wrote about Gertrude Barrows Bennett on March 10, 2015. I started with a biography and then moved on to a discussion of each of her thirteen published stories. My main purpose was to look into the idea that, writing as Francis Stevens, she was the person who invented dark fantasy. That idea was suspect from the beginning. I found very little if any evidence that she was in fact the inventor of that ill-defined (or undefined), late-twentieth-century sub-genre or sub-sub-genre of fantasy fiction. And yet the idea persists. I guess that shows how little influence I have on anything. Anyway, you can begin reading what I wrote about Francis Stevens, aka Gertrude Barrows Bennett, by clicking here. Within that first posting are links to my discussions of each of her stories.

* * *

Eight years is a long time in terms of the Internet. A lot of new-old information has come to light in that time. We now know more about Gertrude Barrows Bennett--about her family, her husbands, and her date and place of death--than we did in 2015. There is a photograph circulating on the Internet that is supposed to be of her. I don't think that it is she. Unless it comes from Randall A. Everts, who has been conducting research on and gathering photographs of tellers of weird tales for more than half a century, I'm not sure that I would trust such a thing very much, at least in regards to an author who has such a very obscure life story.

* * *

Descended from some very old families in America, Gertrude Mabel Barrows was born on September 18, 1883. Some sources give her birth year as 1884, and so already there is a question as to the facts of her life. The earliest census in which she was enumerated was the Minnesota state census of 1885. The date was May 1, 1885. The place was Villard, in Pope County, Minnesota, northwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul, for that's where she was counted with her parents and her two older brothers. Her age was given as one year. On that date, if she had been born in 1884, Gertrude's age would presumably have been given as "8/12," or age eight months. (H. McDonald, listed on the opposite page of the census, was listed as being "2/12," or two months old. Martha M. Count, listed a few pages before, was "6/12," or six months old, meaning she was born in 1884.) But if she was born in 1883, Gertrude would have been not an infant, her age counted in months, but a one-year-old, awaiting her next birthday, that is, her second birthday. Based on this evidence, I think it has to be 1883. The U.S. census of 1900--other sources, too--had it wrong. Maybe recorders of information were given the wrong information.

Gertrude was the youngest child and only daughter of Charles A. Barrows (1841-1898), son of a Michigan farmer and a private in the 33rd Illinois Infantry from August 21, 1861, to September 1, 1864. That unit served in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas and was at the siege of Vicksburg in 1863, one of the turning points of the war. Barrows was a life insurance agent, a traveling agent for a door and sash company, and a banker, possibly among other things. On March 25, 1892, he was admitted to the Pacific Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Sawtelle, California, with chronic pulmonary disease. He died less than two months later, on May 5, 1892, and was buried at Los Angeles National Cemetery. He was just fifty-one years old.

Going back to the year in which the Civil War ended, on December 29, 1865, Barrows married Caroline "Carrie" Pierson Hatch (1841-1918) in Cook County, Illinois, presumably in Chicago. An alternative date and place is December 26, 1865, in Will County, Illinois. Her parents were Charles Hatch (1808-1850) and Clymene (or Clymena) Rebecca (Pierson) Hatch (1813-1899), who, as it so happened, were step-siblings. They were married on July 26, 1830, in Oneida County, New York. By 1845, they were living in what is now Waukesha in what was then the Wisconsin Territory. Hatch was an abolitionist, a member of the Racine County Liberty Party, and a candidate to attend the Wisconsin state constitutional convention.

In 1850, Charles Hatch left his family to go on the California Gold Rush. He never made it to California. In a cold, wet, and snowy June in what is now Wyoming, Hatch fell ill. On June 12, 1850, he died, possibly of mountain fever, and was buried along the Big Sandy River near what is now Farson in Sweetwater County, Wyoming. His grave is marked by an old headstone and enclosed by an old wooden fence. The Oregon-California Trails Association has placed a historical plaque at or near his gravesite. (See the website Find A Grave for more information and pictures of the gravesite and plaque.) This would not be the last death by what you might call misadventure in the story of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, nor the last premature death among her family members.

To be continued . . .

A view of the veterans' home at Sawtelle, California, where Charles A. Barrows (1841-1898), father of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, died. He was a Union Army veteran of the Civil War.

Full attribution:

Title: Soldiers' Home [Sawtelle Veterans Home]. Repository: California Historical Society Digital. Object ID: CHS2013.1297. Collection: Views of Los Angeles, California. Photographer: Putnam and Valentine. Date: Undated. Format: Photographic print: b&w; 20 x 25 cm. General notes: Putnam & Valentine was a partnership of J.R. Putnam and W.S. Valentine, stereo photographers active in Los Angeles, circa 1898-1912. Preferred citation: Soldiers' Home, Views of Los Angeles, California, courtesy, California Historical Society, CHS2013.1297.

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, September 29, 2023

Old Gods Return

"Can you believe, child, that there are gods of old who still live? Old gods, and powers that have survived the passing of their worshippers?"

--From The Citadel of Fear by Francis Stevens (Paperback Library, 1970, p. 204)

Francis Stevens, aka Gertrude M. Barrows Bennett (1883-1948), wrote the first serial by a woman to appear in Weird Tales magazine. (I'm pretty sure that Laurie McClintock was not a woman but a man.) All of those early serials were two-parters and so was hers. It is entitled "Sunfire," and it was in the issues of July/August and September 1923. "Sunfire" was the cover story for the July/August issue, making it the first cover story by a woman writer in "The Unique Magazine." The October issue also had a cover story by a woman, "The Amazing Adventure of Joe Scranton" by Effie W. Fifield (1857-1937). As it so happened, both women were born in Minnesota.

* * *

In 2004, academic Gary C. Hoppenstand asserted that Francis Stevens invented what he called dark fantasy. The title of his introductory essay, "The Woman Who Invented Dark Fantasy" in Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy by Francis Stevens (University of Nebraska Press, 2004), says it all. I disagree. From March 10 to May 13, 2015, I wrote a long series on Gertrude Barrows Bennett and her stories. In that series, I made what I believe to be a strong case that she was not the inventor of dark fantasy, which is, to be clear, an ill-defined sub-genre or sub-sub-genre of fantasy fiction. I believe saying that she was is an attempt to put something there that isn't there at all. It seems to me a lot of theorizing done after the fact, or an attempt to make the facts fit the hypothesis instead of the other way around. Beyond that, to say that this or that author "invented" a literary genre or sub-genre or sub-sub-genre is not to understand cultural or historical processes, which are, necessarily, evolutionary rather than discrete. Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. That was a discrete, technological event. He knew when he invented it that he had invented it. Did Francis Stevens ever use the term "dark fantasy"? Did she ever make any claims to inventing a sub-genre or sub-sub-genre that wasn't named until late in the twentieth century and has still not been adequately defined? The answer is of course no. "Dark fantasy" is of our time and not of hers. If anybody "invented" it, that happened long after she was gone. Anyway, to read what I wrote about Francis Stevens, aka Gertrude Barrows Bennett, click on the menu item on the right.

* * *

I write again today about Francis Stevens because of a couple of essays I have read recently regarding a man named Jonathan Cahn and his book The Return of the Gods, published in 2022. I have nothing to say about him or any validity or invalidity of his ideas. I would just like to point out that Mr. Cahn believes that there has been a revival--a literal revival, I think he means--of what he calls a Dark Trinity. This Dark Trinity is made up of three ancient--that is, pre-Christian, pre-Jewish, and very pagan--gods, Baal the Possessor, Asherah the Enchantress, and Moloch the Destroyer. The names are ancient. The epithets may be his. Differ with Mr. Cahn if you like. But it's clear to me that these ancient, hateful, and seductive gods have returned in one guise or another, most especially, I think, Moloch, to whom ancient pagans sacrificed their children. Look around us today and see the sacrifices we make of our own children, in the forms of abortion, transgenderism, drag, grooming, pedophilia, sexual mutilation, the use of puberty blockers, chemical castration, masking in schools, parks, beaches, and playgrounds, lockdowns, injections that are called "vaccinations," child trafficking, child pornography, the child sex trade, the sexualization of children, the politico-sexual indoctrination, abuse, mistreatment, and exploitation of children by parents, teachers, children's book authors, librarians, medical doctors, people in government, business, media, and entertainment . . . on and on it goes. If there is anything that will bring down upon us the direst of wrath and vengeance, it is this.

* * *

One of the problems with claiming that Francis Stevens invented dark fantasy is that there isn't any set definition of that term. Another is that dark fantasy was not so named until late in the twentieth century, either by Charles L. Grant (1942-2006) or Karl Edward Wagner (1945-1994). (That suggests that it did not exist until then.) Those two obstacles would seem insurmountable for any theorist: it doesn't matter how hard he might hypothesize or theorize, the academic cannot get his fine ideas over those two enormous humps. He doesn't have the power, no matter how many degrees he might have, no matter his position, reputation, influence, or prestige. It just isn't there.

* * *

Genres, forms, styles, and trends in popular culture may be recognized, described, and named. For example, according to Wikipedia, the term film noir was first applied to Hollywood movies of a certain type by Italian-French film critic Nino Frank (1904-1988) in 1946. The period during which film noir flourished began in about 1940 and ended in the mid to late 1950s. In other words, film noir was recognized as a style--and that style was named--contemporaneously to the making of the movies themselves. For another example closer to home, the New Wave in science fiction was described and named by various writers and critics in the period 1961 to 1968. That naming, too, was contemporaneous with the coming of the New Wave. Like the term dark fantasy, though, New Wave "has never been defined with any precision" according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. The Encyclopedia doesn't have an entry at all on what is called dark fantasy, and the term dark fantasy isn't used at all in its entry on Francis Stevens except in reference to Dr. Hoppenstand's collection of her stories. So far he stands alone, albeit with an assist from Wikipedia, purveyor of things that are and are not true.

So film noir and the science fiction New Wave were recognized, named, and described by writers and critics contemporaneously to the making of movies and stories in their respective styles or genres. If Francis Stevens was the inventor of what is called dark fantasy, then it obviously was not. "But there weren't any critics back then," you might say. "Pulp fiction was not studied or taken seriously," you might claim. And yet H.P. Lovecraft, a reader in vast realms, wrote and in 1927 published his seminal survey "Supernatural Horror in Literature." The word dark is throughout Lovecraft's essay. It's clear that he recognized a dark cast in historical and what was then contemporary fantasy fiction. But he didn't employ the word fantasy, using phantasy instead, in a different sense of the word, and nowhere in his essay does the name Francis Stevens appear. So if Francis Stevens invented dark fantasy, H.P. Lovecraft failed to see it, but we do. How smart we are.

I have one last example. Here in the twenty-first century, some people started to call a certain type of music from the 1970s and '80s "yacht rock." In other words, use of the term "yacht rock" was not contemporaneous with the music that is called yacht rock. It was applied only after the fact, an example of facts being forced to fit the hypothesis. Consider this idea: Francis Stevens as the inventor of dark fantasy is the "yacht rock" of criticism in fantasy fiction.

* * *

Gertrude Barrows Bennett was born in the late nineteenth century, in fact just one year after the publication of Friedrich Nietzsche's work The Gay Science (1882), in which he famously (or infamously) wrote: "God is dead." Nietzsche didn't kill God of course. He was more nearly acting like Dr. McCoy, observing as Dr. McCoy so often does, "He's dead, Jim." Except that maybe Nietzsche was a little more sanguine in his attitude about the death at hand than was the ship's doctor on board the Enterprise.

Anyway, if the one God was dead, then that would leave room for the old gods to come back. Perhaps they had lain sleeping, waiting for when the stars would be right for their return. Francis Stevens had one of her characters say, "Can you believe, child, that there are gods of old who still live?" "Believe it," Jonathan Cahn seems to be saying. And again, Gertrude Barrows Bennett seems to have foreseen what we would come to, in the same way that Mary W. Shelley, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacob Burckhardt, Fyodor DostoevskyC.S. Lewis, and so many other conservative thinkers and writers foresaw. Progressives may have their grand plans and fine ambitions for all of us and for our shared future. But they never work. Always there are horrors and horrors.

* * *

I began this year writing about the Fates and their three Nordic counterparts, including Wyrd or Weird. I speculated that Weird came back out from under God during the nineteenth century, once God had weakened in the hearts of men. (Men weaken, God never.) Imagine: a word and a concept that was almost lost came back, and from the word and concept came a new-old genre of fiction, the subject, along with its authors and artists, of this blog. Thankfully Weird was never a god and never malicious.

* * *

Paganism came back in the nineteenth century, too, including in materialistic or atheistic systems of belief that burned and still burn like holy fires in the hearts of their adherents. Marxism, more generally socialism, is chief among them, even if it has been transmuted into critical theory, DEI, transgenderism, identity politics, the culture of victimhood, and so on.

* * *

I believe that Gertrude Barrows Bennett was a believer, possibly a Roman Catholic. And not only was she a believer, she appears to have been firm in her faith. Her faith seems to have filled her heart and to have illuminated her works. I don't sense a woman struggling with her beliefs. Instead, she seems to have been entirely forthright and genuine and to have written with an ease that comes from complete conviction. In her story "Serapion," she had one character say to another: "[Y]ou seem different from any living man. You look like--I have seen the picture of a man with that light on his face." That man was nailed to a cross, the speaker remembers. Last year, when one of the Moloch State's great abominations was finally overturned by the Supreme Court--and by what we might see as divine intervention--I saw a news commentator on television. She is Shannon Bream, and she was positively glowing as she talked about what had just happened. She had "that light" upon her face. It came from within her, but it also came from the source of all light and all love. I will never forget that look. And I will always hold it as a bit of evidence in favor of the God that so many, including the followers of the old gods today, hate so much. In fact, isn't their hatred itself also evidence in favor of the one whom they hate?

* * *

You can believe in the old gods in a literal or a metaphorical sense. I'm not sure that it matters very much either way. If dark fantasy is the story of their return, then it seems to me that the authors of dark fantasy are in favor of their return. It hardly seems possible or logical that the inventor of a very dark genre would have had an opposing eternal light within her, that she--Gertrude Barrows Bennett, aka Francis Stevens--would be in favor of their return and against her one God when she was so obviously a believer. But maybe it took a believer to sense that the old gods were returning and to prescribe what we might need to defeat them again, to force them into exile again. H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), also a product of the nineteenth century, was supposed to have been a non-believer, a materialist and an atheist, but even he sent his old god Cthulhu back into exile. Even he was kindly enough towards humanity to spare us. And what of the readers and lovers of dark fantasy today? Are they so kindly? I'm not so sure. It seems to me that the world is so overfull of people who are themselves overfull of hatred for themselves and for all of humanity that they would just as soon see us all punished forever. Either that or destroyed forever. It is for people like them that dark fantasy is made, and--if it is in fact a genre or sub-genre of fantasy fiction--why it was not named or described until late in the twentieth century, just in time for our twenty-first. As Jesus Jones sang, the world started to wake up from history with the tearing down of the Iron Curtain. But we wouldn't have it. We wanted horrors, and so we have them. They are more subtle in our century than in the last, but they are horrors nonetheless.

A depiction of Moloch, god--or one of the gods--of the twenty-first-century Society-State and of worshippers of the Society-State.

The Triumph Of Christianity Over Paganism by Gustave Doré (1868?). Will this day come again?

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The First of Lovecraft

No author is identified more with Weird Tales than is Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) of Providence, Rhode Island, and--for a short time--Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights, New York. Lovecraft was thirty-two years old when the first issue of Weird Tales was published in March 1923. I imagine that he had waited all of his life for such a title to appear.

I don't know when or where Lovecraft first came upon Weird Tales, although it's clear by reading the first letter below that he did not see the March issue right away. According to his biographer, L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft was "urged by his friends to submit stories to this new market." Lovecraft resisted. (His amateurism and dilettantism are maddening even to this day.) "About April," de Camp wrote, "Lovecraft let himself be persuaded to send [Edwin] Baird five manuscripts." (From Lovecraft: A Biography, Ballantine Books, 1976, pp. 190-191.) Lovecraft sent a kind of cover letter with his submissions. It reads like a résumé by a person who doesn't want the job. It's clear to me that Lovecraft lacked self-esteem or feelings of self-worth. He almost demanded rejection. But that's what a person often does who has experienced rejection from those closest to him, especially, or perhaps exclusively, from his parents.

The long excerpt below begins with Edwin Baird's introduction and continues with the full text of Lovecraft's first letter in Weird Tales, September 1923. After that, Baird had his one-sentence closing. I have made the names of several authors boldface.

     Equally interesting is the letter from H. P. Lovecraft, another master of the weird tale, from whom we have accepted some stories for your entertainment. Mr. Lovecraft's letter, unlike Mr. Triem's, doesn’t exactly flatter WEIRD TALES, but we are nevertheless glad to pass it on to you:

     "My Dear Sir: Having a habit of writing weird, macabre, and fantastic stories for my own amusement, I have lately been simultaneously hounded by nearly a dozen well-meaning friends into deciding to submit a few of these Gothic horrors to your newly-founded periodical. The decision is herewith carried out. Enclosed are five tales written between 1917 and 1923.

     "Of these the first two are probably the best. If they be unsatisfactory, the rest need not be read . . . 'The Statement of Randolph Carter' is, in the main, an actual dream experienced on the night of December 21-22, 1919; the characters being myself (Randolph Carter) and my friend, Samuel Loveman, the poet and editor of 'Twenty-one Letters of Ambrose Bierce.'

     "I have no idea that these things will be found suitable, for I pay no attention to the demands of commercial writing. My object is such pleasure as I can obtain from the creation of certain bizarre pictures, situations, or atmospheric effects; and the only reader I hold in mind is myself.

     "My models are invariably the older writers, especially Poe, who has been my favorite literary figure since early childhood. Should any miracle impel you to consider the publication of my tales, I have but one condition to offer; and that is that no excisions be made. If the tale can not be printed as written, down to the very last semicolon and comma, it must gracefully accept rejection. Excision by editors is probably one reason why no living American author has a real prose style . . . But I am probably safe, for my MSS. are not likely to win your consideration. 'Dagon' has been rejected by _____ _____, to which I sent it under external impulsion--much as I am sending you the enclosed. This magazine sent me a beautifully tinted and commendably impersonal rejection slip . . .

     "I like WEIRD TALES very much, though I have seen only the April number. Most of the stories, of course, are more or less commercial--or should I say conventional?--in technique, but they all have an enjoyable angle. 'Beyond the Door,' by Paul Suter, seems to me the most truly touched with the elusive quality of original genius--though 'A Square of Canvas,' by Anthony M. Rud, would be a close second if not so reminiscent in denouement of Balzac's 'Le Chef d’Ouvre inconnu'--as I recall it across a lapse of years, without a copy at hand. However, one doesn't expect a very deep thrill in this sophisticated and tradesman-minded age. Arthur Machen is the only living man I know of who can stir truly profound and spiritual horror."

     Despite the foregoing, or because of it, we are using some of Mr. Lovecraft's unusual stories, and you will find his "Dagon" in the next issue of WEIRD TALES.

L. Sprague de Camp had this reaction:

Lovecraft had done everything [in his letter] to assure rejection of his stories: the haughty tone, the art-for-art's-sake pose, the deprecation of his own work, and the mention of a previous rejection.

It strikes me as the work not of a man in his thirties but of a boy in his teens.

* * *

As promised, Weird Tales published Lovecraft's story "Dagon" in its issue of October 1923. William F. Heitman's illustration (below) is a good and understated one. Heitman was not especially good at depicting weird, fantasy, horror, or the supernatural. The real heart of "Dagon" was probably outside his range as an illustrator, but a picture of a man in a boat works. I wonder if this was the first published illustration of a work by Lovecraft, or at the very least in a mainstream publication.

"Dagon" is from 1917 or 1919. Nineteen nineteen was also the year in which Lovecraft's contemporary J.C. Henneberger (1890-1969) arrived in Indianapolis and in which The Thrill Book was in publication. I haven't read every story published in Weird Tales to that date, October 1923, but I'm not sure that any one of them is like "Dagon" in its implications, which are of vast expanses of time and the insignificance of man or men lost in an indifferent or even hostile cosmos. (Lovecraft's narrator is essentially a human-like device used to tell a cosmic story.) Edwin Baird called it "a radically different sort of story." There are problems with "Dagon" to be sure. One is Lovecraft's patented overwrought prose. Another is the closing, which became a cliché not only in his work but in myriads more stories in and out of Weird Tales. Only seven short years separated its composition from that of "The Call of Cthulhu." Call "Dagon" a practice run for Lovecraft's later story. But we can also see in these two stories how much Lovecraft matured as a builder of sustained works of fiction between 1919 and 1926.

* * *

"Dagon" takes up less than two and a half pages in Weird Tales. Lovecraft's second published letter, which appeared on page 82, isn't quite that long, but it's long enough. A full paragraph of it has to do with "Dagon."

Once again, Edwin Baird introduced Lovecraft, after which his correspondent launched into another long missive. Included are excerpts from two poems by Lovecraft, his first lines of verse to be published in the magazine. Baird stepped in twice before writing a closing to "The Eyrie" for the month of October. Again, I have made the names of authors boldface.

You may recall the letter from H. P. Lovecraft, published here last month. A bit caustic, that letter; and today we have pleasure in offering another, which, if less stinging, is none-the-less enjoyable. Our friend Lovecraft always has something to say when he writes. Thus:

     "Dear Mr. Baird: I should apologize if my former letter seemed to tax WEIRD TALES with seeking conventional material. Such was not my intention in any way. I only meant that I presumed you would not wish too subtle or cryptical material for presentation to the general public. There is a difference between mere originality and delicate symbolism, or hideously nebulous adumbration. How many American readers outside the frankly 'highbrow' class, for example, would find any pleasure or coherent impression in Arthur Machen's 'The White People,' or in the fantastic passages of the same author's 'Hill of Dreams'? In a word, I take it that WEIRD TALES wants definite stories, with a maximum of plot, tension of situation, explosive climax, and statement rather than too elusive suggestion--this rather than, the Baudelairian prose-poem of spiritual Satanism, where chiseled phrase, lyrical tone, color, and an opiate luxuriance of exotic imagery form the chief sources of the macabre impression . . . .

     "I lately read the May WEIRD TALES, and congratulate yon on Mr. Humphrey's 'The Floor Above,' [for a moment I had a shiver which the author didn't intend--I thought he was going to use an idea which I am planning to use myself!! But it wasn't so, after all], which is a close second to my favorite, 'Beyond the Door.' Evidently my taste runs to the architectural! 'Penelope' is clever--but Holy Pete! If the illustrious Starrett's ignorance of astronomy is an artfully conceived attribute of his character's whimsical narrative, I'll say he's right there with the verisimilitude! I wrote monthly astronomical articles for the daily press between 1906 and 1918, and have a vast affection for the celestial spheres.

     "Some day I may send you a possible filler, beginning:

’’Through the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber, 
Past the wan-moon'd abysses of night,
I have lived o'er my lives without number,
I have sounded ail things with my sight--
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being
driven to madness and fright."

[The lines are from Lovecraft's poem "Nemesis," which was printed in the April 1924 issue of Weird Tales.]

     Mr. Lovecraft, you will observe, is quite as deft at poetry as he is with prose; and as further evidence of this, we submit the prologue to a 300-line heroic poem of his that we may print some day:

"I am he who howls in the night;
I am he who moans in the snow;
I am he who hath never seen light;
I am he who mounts from below.
My car is the car of death;
My wings are the wings of dread;
My breath is the north wind's breath;
My prey are the cold and dead."

     As you know, we are publishing a series of Mr. Lovecraft’s prose pieces, beginning with “Dagon;” and of this story he wrote us, in part:

     "I shall venture 'Dagon' as a sort of test of my stuff in general. If you don't care for this, you won't care for anything of mine. . . . It is not that 'Dagon' is the best of my tales, but that it is perhaps the most direct and least subtle in its 'punch'; so that for popular publication it is most likely to please most. In copying it I have touched up one or two crude spots--it having been written in 1917, directly after a lull of nine years in my fiction-writing. Naturally I was a bit rusty in the management of the prose. A friend of mine--Clark Ashton Smith, the California poet of horror, madness and morbid beauty--showed this yam to George Sterling, who declared he liked it very much, though suggesting (absurdly enough, as I view it!) that I have the monolith topple over and kill the 'thing' . . . a piece of advice which makes me feel that poets should stick to their sonneteering . . .

     "My love of the weird makes me eager to do anything I can to put good material in the path of a magazine which so gratifyingly cultivates that favorite element. I shall await with interest the next issues, with the tales you mention, and am meanwhile trying to get the opening number through a newsdealer. I am sure the venture will elicit some notable contributions as its fame spreads--and the extent of that fame may be judged from the fact that people in Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and California have been equally prompt in calling my attention to it and urging me to try my luck!"

     In a way, "Dagon" is a radically different sort of story, even for WEIRD TALES, and those that will follow it are even more so. For this reason, we shall be particularly interested in hearing what our readers think of the Lovecraft tales. THE EDITOR.

Lovecraft's next letter and next story on his own--"The Picture in the House"--would appear in the issue of January 1924. (Collaborating with his future wife, Sonia H. Greene, he co-wrote, ghost-wrote, or revised "The Invisible Monster" in the November 1923 issue. His contribution was anonymous.) Lovecraft also had stories in the issues of February, March, April, and May/June/July 1924. That's a nice run in the first year and more of "The Unique Magazine."

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, September 23, 2023

"The Eyrie," September 1923

Letter writers in Weird Tales, September 1923:

  • Zahrah E. Preble (1880-1934), writing from Zuni, New Mexico, where she was on expedition with her future husband Frederick Webb Hodge (1864-1956). She was a singer, dancer, and educator and had keen interests in American Indians and their culture.
  • Franklin A. Over, writing as F.A. Ells-Over (1902-1972) of San Diego, California. (Ells was his mother's maiden name.) It looks as though Ells-Over submitted a story with his letter, but I don't know where that story went. Ells-Over was a photographer, writer, and orchid enthusiast.
  • Curtis F. Day (1898-1968) of Somerville, Massachusetts, who had a peculiar interest in people who had been buried alive. He mentioned Edgar Allan Poe in his letter of course. Day was a writer and bookseller.
  • Catherine H(artley) Griggs (1893-1941) of Waterbury, Connecticut. She was a member of the Society for Psychic Research. She had an article in the journal of the society in the issue of November 1918 in which she described a sighting of a ghost by her mother and aunt while they were in Vienna.
  • Paul Ellsworth Triem (1882-1976), whose letter was presumably to accompany the submission of his story "The Evening Wolves," serialized in the issues of June and July/August 1923.
  • H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). This was Lovecraft's first appearance in Weird Tales. He would next have a story, "Dagon," and a letter in the issue of October 1923. I'll have more next on the first of Lovecraft.
  • Just Another Weird One.
  • Charles White of Quebec City, Quebec, who may have been the same Charles White who had an entry in "The Cauldron" in the issue of July/August 1923.
  • Maxine Worthington of Lincoln, Nebraska.
  • Paul Bratton of Sacramento, California.
  • Richard R.  "Dick" Tooker (1902-1988) of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In all, Tooker had six letters and one story in Weird Tales from 1923 to 1943, an admirable career as a reader of and contributor to "The Unique Magazine."
  • Mrs. E.L. Depew of San Francisco, California.
  • John James Arthur, Jr. of Oak Grove Farm, Coleman, Texas. I found a John James Arthur, Jr., with dates of 1903-1978, buried at Ballinger, Texas.
  • William Moesel of New York City, possibly William H. Moesel (1903-1991), a draftsman and structural engineer.
  • V. Van Blascom Parke of Arlington Heights, Massachusetts, in actuality Lavinia "Venie" Van Blarcom Parke aka Mrs. H.B. Parke (1850-1937), a writer, poet, and author of Dorothy and the Christ-Child (1896), illustrated by Will Phillip Hooper, as well as stories in St. Nicholas and other magazines. She claimed to have lived in a haunted house and even to have embraced a ghost!
  • C.D. Bradley of Oakland, California.
  • R(obert) Linwood Lancaster (Jr.) (1904-1978) of Raleigh, North Carolina, who predicted "a very bright future" for Weird Tales magazine. Now here we are a hundred years later observing its anniversary.
  • H. Cusick of New York City.
  • V.H. Bethell of San Francisco, California.

Jessie Burns Parke (1889-1964) was the daughter of Lavinia Van Blarcom Parke, letter-writer to Weird Tales. The mother was an author and poet, the daughter an artist and illustrator. Here is one of her drawings, of Halloween harlequins, close to the season for such things. Jessie Burns Parke also drew the pictures for a deck of Tarot cards that she co-created with occultist Paul Foster Case (1884-1954). His October birthday is coming up, too.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Weird Tales, September 1923

Weird Tales for September 1923 contains 96 pages in its interior, sixteen stories in all, plus one credited essays and six uncredited nonfiction fillers, plus "The Eyrie" and "The Cauldron." (The fillers are few enough in number that I will list them below.) The cover art was by R.M. Mally again, while the interior illustrations were all by William F. Heitman. There was a new main title logo in that September issue. I think it interesting and very well done. The main title looks somewhat old-fashioned, like the Spencerian script of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The subtitle, "The Unique Magazine," is in what I would call an Art Deco style, a decidedly twentieth-century style made for the machine age. The juxtaposition of old and new seems just right for Weird Tales.

The stories and essays in Weird Tales, Volume II, Number 2:

  • "The People of the Comet," part one of a two-part serial by Austin Hall (1880-1933). Was this the first interplanetary adventure in Weird Tales? I think so.
  • "The Case of Dr. Johnstone" by Burton Peter Thom (1874-1933).
  • "The Dead-Naming of Lukapehu" by P. D. Gog, pen name of Charles Edward Lauterbach (1884-1962). Gog's story is set in Hawaii. Dead-naming had a different meaning then than it does now.
  • "Black Magic" (1860) essay by Eliphas Levi aka Alphonse Louis Constant (1810-1875); translated from Historie de la Magie by C.P. Oliver. Oliver also had a story in Detective Tales, "The Body in the Cask" in September 1923, and a column, "Enigmas of Crime," in the same magazine in October 1923 and February 1924.

  • "After Reading 'The Devil's Cabin'," a letter by Rupert Hughes (1872-1956) to Vance Hoyt. Evidently, Hughes had read Hoyt's story in manuscript form. That makes me wonder, was he a literary agent? A reader of manuscripts for Weird Tales? We should look into this more. And I guess he should be added to the list of authors in Weird Tales.
  • "Sisters Prefer Death to Charity" essay (non-fiction filler) by uncredited.
  • "Female Buddha Slain" essay (non-fiction filler) by uncredited.
  • "The Gorilla" by Horatio Vernon Ellis (dates uncertain). Another gorilla story.
  • "The Autobiography of a Blue Ghost" by Don Mark Lemon (1877-1961).
  • "Rare Animals Discovered on Dipsomania Isle" essay (non-fiction filler) by uncredited.
  • "The Money Lender," a "Five-Minute Yarn" by Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
  • "The Bloodstained Parasol" by James Ravenscroft, presumably James Ravenscroft of Florida (1873-?).

Weird Tales, September 1923, with cover art credited to R.M. Mally. 

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, September 17, 2023

First Verse

Although he did not receive credit in the table of contents, Clark Ashton Smith had, in the issue of July/August 1923, the first verse in Weird Tales. The first of his two poems in that issue is entitled "The Red Moon." You will find it on page 48.

The Red Moon
by Clark Ashton Smith

The hills, a-throng with swarthy pine,
Press up the pale and hollow sky,
And the squat cypresses on high
Reach from the lit horizon-line.

They reach, they reach, with gnarled hands--
Malignant hags, obscene and dark--
While the red moon, a demons'-ark,
Is borne along the mystic lands.

The second, a sonnet, appearing on page 68, is entitled "The Garden of Evil":

The Garden of Evil
by Clark Ashton Smith

Thy soul is like a secret garden-close.
Where the cleft roots of mandragores enwreathe;
Where lilies and where fumitories breathe,
And ivy winds its flower with the rose;

The lolling weeds of Lethe, green or wan,
Exhale their fatal languors on the light;
From out infernal grails of aconite.
Poisons and dews are proffered to the dawn.

There, when the moon's phantasmal fingers grope
To find the marbles of a hidden tomb.
In cypress-covert sings the nightingale;

And all the silver-bellied serpents pale
Their ruby eyes among the blossoms ope,
To lift and listen in the ghostly gloom.

There were three poems in the January 1924 issue of Weird Tales, "Hops" by Preston Langley Hickey, "Solution" by Clark Ashton Smith, and "The Cataleptic" by Charles Layng. Mary Sharon had the first poem by a women. Hers was called "The Ghost," and it appeared in the February 1924 issue:

The Ghost
by Mary Sharon

There is a ghost that walks for me,
     A Presence that I dread;
The Spirit of the Youth I was
     Before my dreams were dead.

I sit before my study fire,
     While shadows writhe along the wall,
And Spirit hands rap on the door,
     And ghostly feet glide down the hall.

Outside my window, lifeless trees
     Lift fleshless fingers to the sky;
The night wind whistles eerily,
     Its moaning echoes will not die.

This ghost of mine will not be laid,
    Time cannot set me free; 
It is the wraith of dear dead days,
    That comes to torture me.

Note the similarity in imagery between Smith's poem "The Red Moon":

They [the cypresses] reach, they reach, with gnarled hands--

And Mary Sharon's lines:

Outside my window, lifeless trees
     Lift fleshless fingers to the sky;

Should we take that as a swipe? An inspiration of one author to another? Or two minds arriving independently at the same image?

There were six poems in the issue of March 1924 but only one in the issue of April. That one, called "Nemesis," was by H.P. Lovecraft.

I will soon have more on the first of Lovecraft in Weird Tales, including lines of verse he inserted in his letters to "The Eyrie."

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Zahrah E. Preble (1880-1934)

Née Ethel L. Preble
Singer, Dancer, Music Teacher, Camp Counselor, Playground Director, Author, Public Speaker & Performer
Born August 17, 1880, Berkeley, California
Died April 27, 1934, South Pasadena Sanatorium, South Pasadena, California

Zahrah Ethel Preble was born on August 17, 1880, in Berkeley, California, to Charles Sumner Preble (1855-1939), a civil engineer and former surveyor-general of Nevada, and Ella Melana (Thompson) Preble (1851-1929) of Ohio. Zahrah appears to have been an assumed name. In the U.S. census of 1900, a twenty-year-old Zahrah was enumerated as Ethel L. Preble. Ethel L. Preble graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. A mezzo-soprano singer, she studied under Lydia Sturtevant (1876-1938). 

Zahrah E. Preble taught music in the public schools of Escondido, California. She was also a camp counselor with the Camp Fire Girls in California. From January to November 1921 or after, she was a playground director with the Bureau of Clubs and Playgrounds in the Panama Canal Zone. Zahrah interpreted the song and dance of American Indians, including the Zuni tribe of the American Southwest, for children and adults. Her lifelong interests seem to have been music, dance, childhood education, and American Indian culture. She was a member of the Casa de Adobe committee and Los Fiesteros de la Calle Olvera in Pasadena or South Pasadena, California.

Zahrah wrote her first letter to Weird Tales from New York City. It was published in the issue of July/August 1923. By the time her second letter was published in September 1923, she was on expedition with her future husband in the American Southwest. Here is the complete text of her letters as they were published, with introductory comments by the editor, Edwin Baird:

Letter to "The Eyrie," July/August 1923, page 91:

We recently had something to say on this page about the amazing similarity of stories written by dissimilar people, and Miss Zahrah E. Preble, 12 West Seventy-seventh Street, New York read those remarks and sent us a neat solution of the mystery:

"Dear Mr. Baird: I was particularly interested in what you had to say about the sameness of the manuscripts you have to read.

     "Perhaps this will offer at least a partial explanation. All the stories are attempting to portray a mysterious or weird happening. Did you ever think about the tone of voice people invariably use when they begin to tell you about such things? It immediately takes on a quality which indicates the abnormal theme they are going to give you. That tone of voice unconsciously colors the very words which are used, whether written or spoken, and so we find diverse stories told to achieve the same effect will he told in the same tone quality.

   "Another reason is that the human brain will respond to repetition of ideas just so many times before becoming half-hypnotized. After singing through a dozen songs, no matter how different they may be, I find that my sense of hearing is so drugged by sound that the freshness of perception is worn off, and so the songs all appear alike. Also, when typing for several hours in succession, the sound of the machine drugs my senses, and I find it hard to follow the sense of the words I am copying., although I try to keep alert, so as to make alterations as I copy.

   "This may help you to solve the problem. Anyway, I have enjoyed WEIRD TALES, and as I have taken them in small doses, with sufficient intervals between, they strike fresh each time, so are more enjoyable."

I understand what Zahrah Preble was trying to say, and she makes some good points. Nonetheless, I think that a lack of imagination is the best explanation for the sameness of stories, themes, language, and concepts in the early Weird Tales.

Letter to "The Eyrie," September 1923, page 79:

Among these letters that we mention is one from Zahrah B. Preble of New York City, who recently joined the Hendricks-Hodge [sic] Archeological Expedition that journeyed to New Mexico for the purpose of digging into the prehistoric customs of an ancient people. Miss Preble is now with the expedition at Zuni, New Mexico, and from there she writes us thus:

     "My dear Mr. Baird: I am convinced that the Zunis are adepts at rain making. The sky had been cloudless until the old priests started to the Sacred Lake, 60 miles away. Then faint wisps began to form into clouds. But no rain fell until day before yesterday, when the rain priests from Zuni came out to the sacred spring in Ojo Caliente, and met the returning pilgrims from the Sacred Lake. Here we were allowed to witness a most wonderfully impressive and reverent ceremony. I think we are perhaps the only white people, with the exception of Frank Hamilton Cushing and Mrs. Matilda Stevenson, who have ever been allowed to see this part of the ceremony. But our camp was given not only that privilege, but the one of taking motion pictures of it, so that the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, would have the record. Before we left the mountain ride the rain was falling in torrents. [Boldface type added.]

     "Yesterday the ceremony was augmented by the more spectacular and better-known 'Rain Dance,' in Zuni. It is a beautiful and solemn performance. Rain fell last night in copious quantities. Today it is raining as I write this, and the music of the waters is drumming on my tent fly. I say that the Zunis are great rain makers, and that Faith is the keynote of their ability!

     "So far, I have been too busy absorbing new sights and sounds to do much writing, but, if the wind does not blow too hard each day, I hope to accomplish something before long.

     "There is an interesting historical tale of the murder of Father Latrado, right in front of the old Spanish Mission church, in 1670, which is one of the most picturesque parts of the Hawikuh ruins. Perhaps I can reconstruct that scene sufficiently weirdly to make a good yarn for you. I will keep it in mind."

The implication here is that Zahrah had written to Baird before and would continue to write to him, also that this letter at least, as published, was only an excerpt from a longer letter left unpublished. If correspondence like this was in the papers that Leo Margulies kept in his garage and that he ended up destroying because they became infested with insects, then we have just one more reason to withhold from him our forgiveness. What a terribly irresponsible thing to have done.

By the way, the expedition was actually called the Hendrick-Hodge expedition, but I haven't been able to find out who was Hendrick. Hodge was Frederick Webb Hodge, Zahrah's future husband. Frank Hamilton Cushing (1857-1900) was an American anthropologist and ethnologist who lived among the Zuni people. Matilda Coxe (Evans) Stevenson (1849-1915) was an American ethnologist, geologist, and explorer who also lived among and studied the Zunis.

* * *

Tall and aristocratic in her appearance, Zahrah had blue eyes and brown hair. She was one of four girls. Her sister Amy Elizabeth Preble married Waldo Edgar Dodge on January 11, 1913. Zahrah married a man with a rhyming surname, archaeologist, ethnologist, and author Frederick Webb Hodge (1864-1956), on September 2, 1927, in Bexar County, Texas. At his wife's death in 1934, he was director of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles. Mark R. Harrington (1882-1971)Bruce Bryan (1906-2004), and Johns Harrington (1918-1992), who also wrote for Weird Tales, were also at the Southwest Museum. Johns Harrington's middle name was Heye, presumably for George Gustav Heye (1874-1957), who, despite his very teutonic name, was a native-born American, as well as an archaeologist, collector, and founder of the Museum of the American Indian in New York City. At one time, he had the largest private collection of American Indian artifacts in the world. There is an extant photograph of him and his wife with Hodge and a number of Zuni men.

Zahrah Preble wrote a children's book called Tomar of Siba: The Story of a Gabrielino Indian Boy of Southern California (1933). It was illustrated by her sister, Donna Louise Preble (1882-1979). She had planned to write more, but death intervened. Zahrah's husband handed her notes over to Donna, telling her that she was the one to finish her sister's work. The result was Yamino-Kwiti, Boy Runner of Siba by Donna Preble (1940), which I believe was reprinted as Yamino-Kwiti: A Story of Indian Life in the Los Angeles Area.

Zahrah E. Preble wrote magazine and newspaper articles, including the following:

  • "Jottings from the Pacific Coast" in The Oil Miller (Jan. 1921)
  • "Burbanking Your Child" in The Juvenile (June 1923)
  • "Child Culture's Oldest Cradle" in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (June 24, 1923)
  • "Simple Camp Cookery" in American Cookery (1923) 
  • "Catching Motion on the Wing" in Complete Novel Magazine (Nov. 1925)
  • "Eight Lives for a Horse" in Fawcett’s Triple-X Magazine #21 (Feb. 1926)
  • "The Art of Indian Women" in The Forecast (June 1929)
  • Articles on Indian life and culture for Compton's Cyclopedia

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Thanks to the FictionMags Index for the two pulp magazine credits.

Zahrah Ethel Preble Dodge died on April 27, 1934, at South Pasadena Sanatorium, South Pasadena, California. She was just fifty-three years old.

Zahrah E. Preble's Letters in "The Eyrie"
July/August 1923
September 1923

Further Reading
"Zahrah Hodge, Museum Head's Wife, Mourned" in the Pasadena (California) Post, April 28, 1934, page 4.

Zahrah E. Preble (1880-1934), in a passport photograph from 1921.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, September 11, 2023

"The Eyrie," July/August 1923

Letter writers in the July/August 1923 issue of Weird Tales magazine:

  • Ernest Hollenbeck (1846-1935) of Davison, Michigan, who told about writing a story called "A Cruel Mystery" on his seventy-seventh birthday, finishing it in the anniversary of the hour of his birth. He submitted it to the editor of Weird Tales, Edwin Baird, but it was never published and is now presumably lost forever.
  • Eleanor Gause (1911-1980), then age eleven, having been born on October 15, 1911. "Imagine an eleven-year-old girl reading stories like yours!" she wrote.
  • Richard Jenkins (1908-1982), age fourteen, of North Catasauqua, Pennsylvania.
  • Jack Bohn, presumably John A. Bohn (1911-1986), age eleven, a student at Alexander Hamilton High School, Oakland, California. John A. Bohn was later an accomplished attorney.
  • A.L. Mattison of Dallas, Texas, who wrote a very long letter, possibly the longest to date printed in "The Eyrie," ironically about the excessive length and verbosity of stories in popular fiction.
  • Abe Yochelson, possibly Abraham, later Albert, Yochelson (1907-1966), who gave his age as seventeen, of Chicago, Illinois, and who also read Hugo Gernsback's magazine Science and Invention "for its stories of the end of the world."
  • Mrs. Walter Jackowiec, presumably Valdivia (Szymczyk) Jackowiec (1902-1969), also of Chicago, who got so scared by reading Weird Tales that in the night she cuddled up to her husband in their bed. Good husband.
  • Henry W. Whitehill (1879-1960) of Oakland, California, who later had a story called "The Case of the Russian Stevedore" in Weird Tales, December 1924.
  • Weird Tales Fan, Jr., of Houghton, Michigan.
  • Charles Pracht (1867?-1934?) of Springfield, Missouri.
  • W. C. Young of Wilmington, Delaware.
  • John Richards of Niagara Falls, New York.
  • H. M. of New York, New York, who remarked upon the similarity of "The Devil Plant" by Lyle Wilson Holden (H.M. called it "The Devil Tree") in the issue of May 1923 to "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe. (An excellent observation.) H.M. also pointed out that "that tree appeared long ago in a Strand Magazine story." I wish we knew which one.
  • One of the Bunch, who wrote from a place unknown.
  • Agnes E. Burchard of Los Angeles, California, who asked that Weird Tales reprint "The Upper Berth" by F. Marion Crawford. (She couldn't remember his name.) I assume this was Agnes Elizabeth Burchard (1892-?), a teacher born in Great Neck, Long Island, and educated at Bryn Mawr College.
  • Mrs. Frances Miller of Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Miss Zahrah E. Preble of New York, New York. Zahrah Ethel Preble Hodge (1880-1934) was a singer and dancer specializing in the cultures of American Indians, including the Zuni tribe of the American Southwest. She was the wife of archaeologist, ethnologist, and author Frederick Webb Hodge (1864-1956). Zahrah E. Preble also had a letter in "The Eyrie" in September 1923. I will have more on her in the next entry.

As you can see, Weird Tales appealed to women and children. Maybe the stereotype of the young male fan came later, especially in regards to science fiction and comic books.

An illustration by Roy Crane for "Child Culture's Oldest Cradle" by Zahrah E. Preble  in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 24, 1923, whole page number 95. Roy Crane (1901-1977) was then a young cartoonist, Texas-born but living in New York City. Less than a year after this illustration was published, his comic strip Wash Tubbs began in syndication. Crane added Captain Easy to the cast of his strip in 1929. Easy is the character we remember from one of the great adventure strips and from one of our greatest cartoonists. Crane later created the newspaper comic strip Buz Sawyer.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Weird Tales, July/August 1923

The issue of Weird Tales magazine for July/August 1923 was the first to cover two months rather than one and the first to have fewer than 100 pages. It was also the first issue in volume two of the magazine. The cover by R.M. Mally illustrates "Sunfire" by Francis Stevens, aka Gertrude Barrows Bennett. It was his second of nine covers for Weird Tales, and it was her first and last story for "The Unique Magazine." In fact, it was the last published story of her writing career: one hundred years ago this late summer season, Gertrude Barrows Bennett fell silent.

There are sixteen stories, one credited essay, and two poems in the July/August issue. The poems were by Clark Ashton Smith and were the first of their form in Weird Tales. All of the interior illustrations were by William F. Heitman (1878-1945). There are sixteen uncredited nonfiction fillers with titles in this issue as well, plus at least three without titles. And there are two features, "The Cauldron," conducted by Preston Langley Hickey, and "The Eyrie," the regular letters column. As in the previous two issues, there are three columns of type. The interior of the magazine contains 96 pages.

The stories, essay, and poems and their authors:

  • "The Room of the Black Velvet Drapes" by B. W. Sliney.
  • "Doctor X," called "A Five-Minute Tale," by Culpeper Chunn (1889-1927). I wonder what the first story was in which someone or something was referred to as X. Could it have been "Doctor X"?
  • "The Two Men Who Murdered Each Other" by Valma Clark (1894-1953). The title of this story is of course a variation on "The Man Who . . .".
  • "The Strange Case of Jacob Arum" by John Harris Burland (1870-1926). I believe Heitman's illustration for Burland's story is the first in Weird Tales to show a black man.
  • "Black Cunjer" by Isabel Walker.
  • "The Red Moon," poem by Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961).
  • "Voodooism" essay by Will W. Nelson.
  • "Senorita Serpente" by Earl Wayland Bowman (1875-1952).
  • "The Room in the Tower" by D. L. Radway.
  • "Riders in the Dark" by Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
  • "Mandrake" by Adam Hull Shirk (1881-1931).
  • "The Garden of Evil," poem by Clark Ashton Smith.
I have written before about nine of these authors, seven at length and two with much shorter entries. Click on their names for links.

Next: "The Eyrie" for July/August 1923.

Weird Tales, August/September 1923 with cover art by R.M. Mally illustrating "Sunfire" by Francis Stevens. I have read "Sunfire," and I can't figure out which scene in the story is illustrated in Mally's drawing. I would call this one of the poorest covers in Weird Tales, a magazine with more than its share of poor covers.

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, September 4, 2023

Dr. Dorp by Otis Adelbert Kline

As far as I can tell, Dr. Dorp was the first series character to appear in Weird Tales magazine. Created by Otis Adelbert KlineDr. Dorp was in three stories all together, two in Weird Tales and one in Amazing Stories. Those three stories are:

  • "The Phantom Wolfhound" in Weird Tales, June 1923
  • "The Malignant Entity" in Weird Tales, May/June/July 1924 (Kline was editor of that issue.)
  • "The Radio Ghost" in Amazing Stories, September 1927

"The Malignant Entity" was reprinted four times, in Amazing Stories, June 1926; Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall 1934; Strange Offspring (American Fiction #10), edited by Benson Herbert and published in 1946 by Utopian Publications Ltd.; and Amazing Stories, February 1966. Although it's a little derivative, "The Malignant Entity" is the best in the series, I think. If any one of them was going to be reprinted, this one was it.

Dr. Dorp is an occult detective. His identifying characteristic is his gray van dyke beard. He might have a personality. If he does, it doesn't show very well in the stories, which include a lot of exposition. Kline's investigator was probably based on a combination of Sherlock Holmes and William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder.

* * *

"The Phantom Wolfhound" was in the issue of June 1923. It opens like "The Weaving Shadows" by W.H. Holmes, which was in Weird Tales in March 1923, with the investigator in his home being visited by a detective and the detective's client. The detective is named Hoyne, whereas Holmes' detective is named Rhyne. So Hoyne in Kline and Rhyne in Holmes. The client is named Ritzky. He is an older man who shares his household with his twelve-year-old orphaned niece. In other words, this is something of an Uncle story. And in other words, the girl is of the right age to bring on some poltergeist activity. (There is a girl in "The Weaving Shadows," too.) Dr. Dorp and Detective Hoyne witness ectoplasm, called "psychoplasm," issuing from her mouth as she sleeps. Dorp takes a sample of the stuff, which is an actual material substance, just as in "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes," Kline's serial from the March and April issues of "The Unique Magazine."

Dr. Dorp is called a "psychologist" in this story. He is the author of a book called Investigations of Materialization Phenomena. Like Carnacki, he uses mechanical equipment to detect ghosts. Again, as in "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes," ghosts or spirits are treated as material phenomena. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is referred to in the story, as is Baron Von Schrenk, also known as Albert Freiherr von Schrenck-Notzing (1862-1929), a real-life investigator and author of Phenomena of Materialization: A Contribution to the Investigation of Mediumistic Teleplastics (1923). Dr. Dorp's title is similar to Baron Von Schrenk's. Both "The Phantom Wolfhound" and Von Schrenk's book were published in 1923.

Professor James Braddock, the uncle in "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes," is Dr. Dorp's friend and colleague, although he doesn't make an appearance in the story. Like that earlier story, "The Phantom Wolfhound" is set in Chicago. ("The Thing of  Thousand Shapes" is also set near Peoria, Illinois.) There are detailed descriptions of a complex physical environment within the Ritzky home. That's okay, I guess, in a detective story, but descriptions of complex environments don't really make for good prose or good storytelling. James Agee was able to pull it off in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, but then that was a documentary work.

"The Phantom Wolfhound" is, like I said, an Uncle story. As it turns out, the uncle was slowly poisoning his niece so that he could get her fortune. She kills him off with her psychoplasmic hound, which Uncle had shot in life. The hound comes back in death and the niece thereby exacts her revenge and defends herself against impending murder at Uncle's hands. The story ends in all italics.

Dr. Dorp is not like Sherlock Holmes in that he doesn't have a discernible personality. Hoyne acts as his Watson, and the dead Russian wolfhound as something like the Hound of the Baskervilles.

* * *

"The Malignant Entity" was in the triple-sized anniversary issue of May/June/July 1924, edited by Otis Adelbert Kline. It's definitely the better of the two stories. And like the first Dr. Dorp story, it's connected to an earlier story, for "The Malignant Entity" is essentially "Ooze" in the city. (As you know by now, "Ooze," by Anthony M. Rud, was the cover story of the first issue of Weird Tales, March 1923.)

Mr. Evans, a writer, is the narrator of the story. ("The Phantom Wolfhound" is told in the third person.) Chief McGraw is a detective, and there are two Irish police officers, Rooney and Burke. Other characters include a fingerprint expert named Hirsch and the coroner, named Haynes. Haynes was in Kline's earlier story "The Corpse on the Third Slab" (Weird Tales, Aug./Sept. 1923). There is also mention of a dead man named Immune Benny, who "is alleged to have committed numerous crimes, among which were several revolting murders, without ever having been convicted." We don't know it yet, but Benny appears to have been a psychopath. His face shows up at the end of "The Malignant Entity," and the story itself ends, once again, in all italics.

There is another dead man. He was Professor Albert Townsend, who, although he was a professor and although he was named Albert, was not the same man as Professor Albert Randall in "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes." And his daughter, named Dorothy, is not the same daughter as in Kline's previous story. Her name is Ruth. Both Dorothy's mother and Ruth's mother are missing in action. Note to all women: never marry a scientist or pseudoscientist engaged in research on the fringes. Yes, you will have a beautiful daughter, but then you will die.

Dr. Dorp says of Professor Albert Townsend: "Who hasn’t heard of him and his queer theories about creating life from inert matter?" After a while, Dorp adds, "He has been working day and night in his effort to prove his theory that a living organism can be created from inorganic matter." Townsend's subject was protoplasm, the stuff that was supposed to have been in the primordial ooze from which all life spontaneously arose. In other words, Townsend was pursuing a pseudoscientific idea held by supposed scientists and science-minded people from the 1800s even unto today. Look where it got him.

In "Ooze," the giant amoeba lives in a pond on the grounds of a backwoods Alabama estate. In "The Malignant Entity," it's in a vat of "heavy albuminous or gelatinous solution" in Townsend's laboratory. In a long and interesting passage, Dr. Dorp postulates:

     "What is life? Broadly defined as we recognize it on this earth, it is a temporary union of mind and matter. There may be, and probably is another kind of life which is simply mind without matter, but we of the material world know it not. To us, mind without matter or matter without mind are equally dead. The moneron [sic] has a mind--a soul--a something that makes it a living individual. Call it what you will. The professor's cell of man-made protoplasm has not. Can you conceive of any possible way in which he could, having reached this stage, create an individual mind or soul, an essence of life that, once united with his cell of protoplasm would form an entity?"

     "It seems impossible," I admitted.

     "So it seems," he replied, "yet it is only on such an hypothesis that I can account for the mysterious deaths of the professor and Officer Rooney."

     "But I don't see how a moneron [sic] or a creature remotely resembling one could kill and completely devour a man in less than two hours," I objected.

     "Nor I," agreed the doctor. "In fact I am of the opinion that, if the professor did succeed in creating life, the result was unlike any creature large or small, now inhabiting the earth--a hideous monster, perhaps, with undreamed of powers and possibilities--an alien organism among billions of other organisms, hating them all because it has nothing in common with them--a malignant entity governed solely by the primitive desire for food and growth with only hatred of and envy for the more fortunate natural creatures around it."

I have speculated before that the psychopathic killer is a blank, that is, a man without a soul. In Dr. Dorp's theorizing, maybe that killer is matter without mind, i.e., without spirit or a soul. The psychopath kills, and so does the giant amoeba or murderous cell in "The Malignant Entity." Being without a soul, it envies and hates those beings that have souls, or an animating spirit. (Remember that anima means "soul" or "spirit.") One of my ideas is that the psychopathic killer wants to know what makes us go, and so he cuts us apart in order to get at what he can only believe is the mechanism beneath the skin. Knowing that he lacks something but not knowing what it is, he is murderously envious and full of hatred for the rest of humanity.

There is a memorable sequence in "The Malignant Entity" in which Dorp and his associates chase the nucleus of the cell around the laboratory like in the old sing-along activity of following the bouncing ball. The nucleus escapes but remains within the building. Described as "plasmic jelly," it consumes a mouse in the basement, and that's where it is finally caught. The nucleus is also described as putting out pseudopods, and at one point it is said to look like a cuttlefish, which is of course a tentacled creature. Now we're back to earlier themes in this series on one hundred years of Weird Tales. In his diary, discovered in a hidden safe, Townsend wrote that his giant amoeba was made of "syntheplasm." Townsend finally brought it to life on September 23 of an unknown year. Maybe that was one hundred and one years ago this month.

In "The Malignant Entity," Otis Adelbert Kline continued in his habit of mixing real people and fictional characters in his stories. In this case, the real-life psychic investigator was Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940). That leads to a broader point, namely, that Kline seemed to have been building a universe of interconnected characters, themes, and concepts, drawing from his own stories but also seemingly inspired by other authors published in Weird Tales. He even has his own grimoires in books written by real-life investigators. If this had been Lovecraft, we might call it a mythos.

* * *

Published in Amazing Stories in September 1927, "The Radio Ghost" takes place in the Chicago area, just like its predecessors. Once again, Evans is narrator. There's another niece, Greta Van Loan, and her uncle, the late Gordon Van Loan, who like other uncles in Kline's stories is an investigator of psychic phenomena. Her cousin is Ernest Hegel, who turns out in the end to be a Scooby-Doo-type villain. There is mention of the Society for Psychical Research, also of real-life psychic and medium Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918). (She was real-life. Being a psychic and a medium is of course not real-life.) Fictional characters are Easton, a civil engineer; Brandon, an electrical engineer; and detectives Hogan and Rafferty. Hogan has an Irish accent. Among the words in his vocabulary is shenanigans.

Radio figures pretty prominently in "The Radio Ghost." The title tells you as much. Remember that the last of these Dr. Dorp stories was in a magazine published by radio and television pioneer Hugo Gernsback. Gernsback's book Radio for All, published in 1922, is mentioned in "The Radio Ghost." I would call that an early example of product placement in a work of fiction. In fact, I detect in the whole story a strong odor of commercial promotion of Gernsback, his products, and his ideas. There are detailed descriptions of technology in "The Radio Ghost," as was so common in early science fiction. It's no wonder Gernsback published this story, although you might consider that "The Radio Ghost" is not even really a story but a how-to and a speculation on radio and the uses of radio, then and into the future.

* * *

Otis Adelbert Kline was an interesting case. He wasn't the best or most imaginative author. He was entirely too caught up in the nineteenth-century hoax/fraud of Spiritualism, mediumship, and ectoplasm. And yet he was capable of formulating interesting ideas as a basis for his stories. The passage quoted above about mind and matter suggests an insight into a human problem, that is, of the man who hates his fellow creatures because he cannot understand them, coming as he does from the outside, and lacking as he does a soul or spirit, or what makes a man a human being after all. Sometimes you feel like giving up on a writer after you have read a little of what he wrote. I'm not ready to do that yet with Otis Adelbert Kline. However, if a body of fiction is a coat, a writer should avoid hanging his on the hook of a shabby and pathetic belief system such as Spiritualism, Theosophy, Marxism, or Scientology. It will only end up on the floor, dusty and rumpled, trod upon and ruined.

William F. Heitman's illustration for "The Malignant Entity" by Otis Adelbert Kline in Weird Tales, May/June/July 1924. The character in the middle is Kline's occult detective, Doctor Dorp. That's poor Professor Townsend on the floor.

And an illustration by Frank R. Paul for Hugo Gernsback's Radio for All, published in 1922. The view is of an office worker fifty years into the future. Many of the things in this fanciful illustration have actually come about, though not necessarily by 1972 and not only by way of radio technology.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley